REACHING 21ST CENTURY PEOPLE
I am committed to the renewal of the Methodist movement for faithfulness in the 21st century. What worked for our movement in the last 50 years will not work for the next fifty years. To reverse our downward death spiral in lost membership and ineffectiveness will require dramatic change and creative innovations across the church. Not all churches are growing and innovative like Snellville so I hope we will be a model and teaching church for change and transformation.
First, we must bring church planting into every district and place it in the DNA of every church. After 20 years of existence, the average UMC brings one new believer to Christ for every 85 members! Yet our new churches reach new believers at a 2:1 ratio. After five years, they are still reaching new people 3:1. The future of our denomination depends on starting new churches every week just like we did at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet we put far more resources in serving ourselves rather than church planting! The largest sector of our growth in the past 3 years has been our Latino worship service and starting 2 youth worship and a children's worship service.
We must welcome innovative and "out of the box" church plants. To reach this culture, we need to be starting churches in coffee houses, in warehouses, in homes and movie theatres. Not all church plants can succeed with the UM label. We need to insist on UM theology and accountability but not require these new starts to carry a label that is foreign and a huge hurdle for modern people.
Second, the growing churches of the future will be multi-cultural. Thirty years ago I was taught that fast growing churches were homogeneous. This has totally changed! Especially in our cities, the only thriving churches are multi-cultural. Most of our conferences are behind the time on this trend. We need to educate, place and promote pastors who are bi-lingual and effective in developing these churches.
Third, we must encourage and embrace innovative and contemporary worship. This does not mean that churches like this one stop offering traditional, sanctuary worship. Our service is still relevant and growing. Yet all the trends tell us that innovative worship is here to stay and not a fad! We must use modern media to reach the unchurched, teach the Gospel to a visual culture and reach people through the modes of communication that they use daily. We must require our seminaries to respect this trend and teach how to be effective in it. Virtual churches will be very common in the next decade - will the UMC be a part of this movement or leave it to non-denominational churches?
Fourth, people in this culture are seeking clear teaching and doctrine. They choose a church based on the style of worship, the preacher and the programs. But they stay and commit to a church that disciples them to a great cause and a forward movement that is changing the world. We must embrace our Methodist roots and bring scriptural holiness to every community we serve. People are drawn to high commitment churches. So, let us clearly state the membership expectations of prayer, worship, tithing and servant living. This will change hearts, build communities for the kingdom and change the world for Christ.
30 years in ministry has demonstrated to me that God's Kingdom design for a community will be served by faithful churches and visionary leaders. Either the UMC rises through innovation to be faithful in these changing times or God will raise up another church to do God's Kingdom mission. The future of our movement depends on our willingness to follow and be committed to change and innovation regardless of the hardships. May God find this church and our fellow UM churches faithful to HIs call!!